The city of Ravenswood will consider whether or not to join Jackson County and the city of Ripley in joint litigation against pharmaceutical companies for the damage done to the community by the opioid epidemic.
Kevin Harris of the law firm Harris and Holmes in Ripley spoke to city council during a 7 p.m. meeting at city hall. Harris asked the city to join the county and Ripley, as well as others in the Mid-Ohio Valley in the lawsuit. Harris said it has become clear pharmaceutical companies bear a burden of responsibility.
"They know they've done wrong. They weren't policing this. I truly believe they knew someday they would be caught with their hand in the cookie jar," he said.
Many communities already are filing similar legal actions. In addition to taking lives, the opioid crisis is at the root of many problems in West Virginia communities, Harris said. Jails are facing massive overcrowding, police departments are overwhelmed and the everyday quality of life is declining.
"It's a burden on our communities," he said. "When you have to go to the field before a tee-ball game and check to make sure there are no used needles in the dugout, it's a problem."
Harris' firm is working with the firm Marc J. Bern and Partners, who have represented 9/11 victims. Harris said Bern's own son died of an opioid overdose, so the issue is personal for him. Bern's firm also has the financial resources to back the lawsuit.
"He has more money than anyone could ever want to spend in their lifetime, but he doesn't have his son," Harris said. "I truly think it's personal with him."
The litigation proposed by Harris isn't the same as joint lawsuits being filed elsewhere, he said. The suit would be localized, focusing only on the Mid-Ohio Valley. In addition to Ripley and Jackson County, Ravenswood would join Wood County, as well as the municipalities of Williamstown and Spencer who already have signed on. Other counties and municipalities in the region are considering whether or not to participate.
In addition to leading the nation in overdoses, West Virginia also is seeing the opioid epidemic's effect on the state's children, many of whom must go into foster care because of their parents' struggle with addiction. Harris said 25 percent more children have gone into foster care in the last four years.
The law firms involved would take only 25 percent of the funds awarded in a judgement, Harris said. This would go toward covering contingencies like paying expert witnesses and case-related travel expenses, he said. The remaining 75 percent would go back into the communities.
Josh Miller said the issue will be placed on the agenda for the next city council meeting. The opioid epidemic becomes more of a pressing issue every day, he said. Just in the last few weeks, it has been the subject of public discussion at various events and meetings, he said.
"It's obviously a huge topic right now," Miller said.
Council could not vote on the matter Tuesday because it was presented as part of the public forum and items must be specifically listed on the agenda before council can vote on them.
In other business:
• Superintendent of Recreation Katrena Ramsey said students at Ravenswood Grade School recently completed a large project to help decorate the pool for this summer.
Through an $850 grant from donorschoose.org, the students completed large posters of aquatic animals created using saved bottle caps.
The participating students included Riley Curfman, Blake Dauch, Cameron Rawson, Zane Knight, Taylor Randolph, Sarah Lycans, Peyton Mellinger, Silvia Smith, Riley Street, Jackson McNeeley, Horacio Kidd and Izzy Boothe.
Adult volunteers on the project included Ramsey, Roy Bennett, Rick Boggess, Bonnie Friend, Chester McClellan, Roy Bennett and Rachelle Bennett.
Ramsey said the Donors Choose website is unique because it allows anyone to apply for a grant, and donors can simply choose any project they wish to fund. The program is routinely mentioned on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," as Colbert is an advocate and donor for the program. Other well-known donors include Bill and Melinda Gates.
• Maintenance Supervisor Bob Huffman said council may want to consider switching from using the landfill in Meigs County, Ohio, to using one in Athens County.
Right now, the city budgets $126,000 a year for disposal of garbage at the Meigs Transfer Station at about $40 a ton. However, the Athens-Hocking Landfill could dispose of the city's garbage at $25.75 a ton with a two-year contract; the city does not currently have a contract at the Meigs Transfer Station. The change could present a large cost savings to the city, but vehicle fuel and maintenance would have to be factored in, he said.
• Ravenswood Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Kevin McClain reported the VFD responded to 37 calls last month and firefighters logged 312 volunteer hours at the recent Raid on Ravenswood.
• Officials announced several upcoming events: The city pool opens May 26. The Dash for Diabetes will be June 9 at Riverfront Park. The Ohio River Fest is Aug. 3-5. Sing in the Park is slated for Aug. 11. Harvest in the Wood will be Sept. 28-30. The Charity Challenge event is set for Sept. 29.
The next city council meeting is set for 7 p.m. June 5.